Monday, March 8, 2010

Dinner on the table every night?

I decided that if I was going to be a stay-at-home mom (li'l Sonia was born on May 13, 2009), I would do all of the cooking and cleaning during the week. This posed QUITE a problem, though.... See, I have no natural cooking ability. I look at the ingredients in our pantry and see just that-- ingredients. If I go to the grocery store without a specific plan, I come home with either nothing, or components not fit for actual meals-- the stuff I buy will sit in our pantry or fridge for months, expire, and get thrown out. If it wasn't for take-out, cereal, mac & cheese, and my husband loving to cook, I might have starved to death once I moved out on my own. I still miss my college dining hall....

My husband, Andrew, and I agreed that I shouldn't worry about cooking dinner for the first few months. We survived on frozen pizza, take-out, and things that one of us could cook quickly after Andrew got home (at the time, it never occurred to us that something other than spaghetti with jarred sauce could be a "quick dinner" possibility, so we ate a lot of pasta). But, by the time my daughter was about 3 months old and had a regular bedtime of 7pm, I was getting the hang of things. The house was clean(ish), the laundry was always done.... I felt that I should get cooking. I started small by making dinner twice a week and upping the frequency as I got more comfortable. My friend (and personal hero), Carol, gave me advice about how to get cooking done while taking care of a kid: do the prep work during naptime. Sonia was settling in to a napping schedule of napping three times a day for at least a half an hour each time-- one of the naps was shower time for me, but one or both of the other two naps were fair game.

So what in the heck was I going to cook?!?!?!?

My repertoire at the time was very limited: tacos, sloppy joes, and chicken legs. Andrew is an enthusiastic amateur chef, so we have a good amount of cookbooks. Unfortunately, most of the recipes in said cookbooks contain an ingredient list longer than Crystal Gayle's hair and require WAY too much time to make. I had one or two naptimes and maybe 20-30 minutes after Andrew got home to work with.

I finally figured out that dishes such as casseroles were perfect-- I could prepare them during naptime and then refrigerate them until it was time to pop 'em in the oven. Also, CROCK POT! But only crock pot recipes that do not require pre-cooking of the food. I mean, what IS that? If you have to pre-brown the meat and saute the veggies (creating more dishes to wash-- UGH), what is the crock pot doing all day? Warming your food? That's just dumb. I also discovered that my huge Better Homes and Gardens cookbook had recipes marked marked "FAST" in the index, a lot of those can be prepared in 20 minutes or so. To solve my grocery shopping idiocy problems, I had to force myself to plan an entire week of meals and make a shopping list based on that. And the best discovery of all? Uncle Ben's Ready Rice. Holy mackerel, it RULES!!!!

I know, I know.... This all seems pretty obvious to most normal people, but to me, it was a revelation. Once I started spending a bit of time actually planning ahead before wandering aimlessly through Jewel and coming out empty-handed, this whole cooking thing seemed a lot less scary. Plus, Andrew is incredibly supportive about my cooking endeavors. He makes all the right "yum" noises and brags about my cooking (even though what I cook is still far, far, far more basic than the dishes he whips up on a whim out of random scrounged ingredients).

For my Flaming Toaster contributions, I'll be posting recipes/instructions for the 20 or so (!!) dishes in my new & improved repertoire. My posts may lack the wit and writing talent of my fellow Flaming Toaster authors, but I can guarantee you some great recipes!

I don't want her to grow up any faster than she already is, but I really can't wait until Sonia is old enough to cook and bake with me!


  1. wait . . . you clean and you have 20 OR SO RECIPES that you cook on a regular basis?!?! Huh. I bet Demetri is wishing he married better right about now. ;)

    LOVE the picture by the way . . . .

  2. I can so relate to your experience - especially the part about looking in the cabinet and just seeing ingredients. (Josh, on the other hand, looks in the cupboard and sees a full on meal. How does he do that??) Welcome to the blog, and I look forward to reading, and cooking your recipes! -- Carla